New rules on fuels take aim at carbon

State has series of goals for lowering emissions of greenhouse gases

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Washington is following the lead of other West Coast states in cutting greenhouse gas tailpipe emissions as part of the global effort to combat climate change.

Emissions from cars and trucks make up about 47 percent of greenhouse gases emanating from Washington.

The Department of Ecology and Office of Financial Management are in the midst of a rulemaking effort that will radically alter the types of fuels and vehicles being used today.

On Thursday, the department will hold a public meeting from 3 to 5 p.m. with public comments to follow at 6 p.m. at South Seattle College, Georgetown Campus, 6737 S. Corson Ave., Building C, in Seattle.

Under a 2008 law, the state is about to join California, Oregon and British Columbia in taking action to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

Stu Clark, the air quality manager for the Ecology Department, said last week the new rules will be implemented through a market-based approach rather than through imposition of a carbon or motor vehicle tax.

Fuel producers and importers would gradually introduce lower-polluting fuels over a 10-year period.

The goal is to cut greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2020, and then go below that by 25 percent in 2035 and by 50 percent in 2050. Fuels used by trains, boats and planes would be exempt.

Regulated fuels include gasoline, diesel, biofuels, denatured ethanol and blends containing biomass diesel.

Cleaner fuels such as electricity, compressed natural gas, compressed hydrogen and propane would fall under voluntary regulation.

In turn, a worldwide system of buying and selling carbon pollution credits would be encouraged to get businesses and consumers to change their habits and their transportation technology. Environmental projects such as planting trees may be eligible for carbon credits, which are traded as an international financial instrument and have a market value.

Carbon credits are voluntary in the U.S. but are enforced in other countries under the Kyoto Protocol established in 1992. Moving to cleaner fuels may result in substantial investment in Washington to build fueling stations for compressed natural gas and the manufacture of biomass fuels, among other needs.

As much as $1.1 billion in new energy infrastructure may be needed, but that would create 3,800 jobs, said Jim Cahill, senior budget assistant for the Office of Financial Management.

While corn ethanol is a leader in alternative fuel, other sources being developed are waste beverages, molasses, sorghum, wheat, corn fiber and sugar cane.

The state is using a carbon life-cycle model to measure the greenhouse gases created by each fuel.

The “well-to-wheels” model calculates emissions from pumping, refining and transportation of fuels and assigns a “carbon intensity” rating. Alternative fuels have much lower carbon intensity numbers than gasoline. As a result, more blended fuels are anticipated in the plan.

Clean fuel standards could cause fuel prices to rise by about a dime a gallon by 2026, but that will be more than offset by higher vehicle mileage standards to be required nationally in coming years, Cahill said.

California’s efforts to establish clean-fuel standards have withstood legal challenges in state and federal courts, although the state court ordered some revisions. Washington also is moving to encourage creation of nearly 17,000 new jobs in what’s called the “green economy.”

For more information, go to the most recent study on clean fuel standards at ofm.wa.gov/initiatives/cleanfuel standards/default.asp.